Diversity in political representation in Scotland: data improvement project proposal

We have been scoping out a project to work with stakeholders to improve the completeness of data on the diversity of election candidates and elected representatives in Scotland. This paper sets out details of a proposed new data collection at the 2022 local council elections.

This document is part of a collection

5. Proposed Approach to Data Collection

The proposed new data collection would take place in advance of the 2022 local government elections using the (non-mandatory) questionnaire outlined above to collect diversity data at the candidate nomination stage, when all candidates (or their agents) are completing mandatory nomination papers and submitting these to their local election office.

The key steps in the data collection process are set out below. If you would like any more information on the proposed approach or the rationale for this approach, or if you have comments / suggestions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

We will continue to work with the EMB and welcome feedback from ROs to ensure the process is as efficient as possible and minimises the burden on candidates and ROs.

Step 1: Development of data collection materials and approach

The process of developing the questionnaire and approach to data collection is the subject of this paper. We will continue to engage with interested parties as we finalise the data collection materials over the coming weeks, and respond to any feedback received in response to this paper.

Step 2: Dissemination of materials

In early February 2022, the Scottish Government will print and send enough paper copies of the questionnaire, information leaflets and return pre-paid envelopes as required to ROs in each local authority in advance of the nomination period opening in March.

We also propose to provide a printable version of the paper questionnaire (marked as non-mandatory) online able to be downloaded and printed, for those who do not pick up nomination papers directly from council offices.

The online version of the form will be accessible via QR code or hyperlink from the information leaflet and paper and printable versions of the questionnaire, and the link will be shareable in any subsequent electronically circulated reminders about the survey.

Step 3: Inviting candidates to complete the questionnaire

During the March candidate nomination period, ROs would hand out the paper questionnaire, information leaflet and return pre-paid envelopes to candidates or their agents when they collect nomination papers from council offices, noting that the questionnaire is not a mandatory part of the nomination papers, but pointing them to the information leaflet on the project, which we hope will encourage participation.

Where candidates or their agents have downloaded online candidate nomination forms, information and instructions for responding online or by printing and returning paper versions of the questionnaire will be provided.

Step 4: Returning the questionnaire

Candidates will either:

  • complete the questionnaire online on their phone or other electronic device.
  • post paper questionnaires (whether received from their RO or downloaded online and printed) in the pre-paid envelope provided*, or hand their sealed pre-paid envelope to their ROs alongside their nomination papers so that ROs can put directly in the mail.

* As discussed in the previous section, the pre-paid envelopes are provided for privacy for candidates. A supply of envelopes will be provided to ROs, in case candidates or agents lose the original envelope they picked up with nomination papers or don't have them because they downloaded the questionnaire directly online.

Step 5: Data processing after nomination period

Analysts would be responsible for inputting the data from the paper questionnaires and assigning each candidate a unique identifier. Access to the paper questionnaires and data would be restricted to a small number of analysts to ensure candidate's privacy. Paper forms would be stored securely in locked cabinets until they are destroyed following quality assurance of the data entry.

It is currently being confirmed whether data entry will be undertaken by a small number of SG analysts or by a data entry contractor, with a pseudonymised dataset being provided securely to SG analysts for quality assurance and analysis.

Step 6: Data stored in secure password protected file until election

The data from the questionnaires will then be stored in a password protected file on a secure server until the election results. Access to the file will be restricted to a small number of analysts.

Step 7: Data processing post-election

Following the results of the election, analysts will input whether each candidate was successful or unsuccessful in order to be able to provide a breakdown of the diversity of all candidates, and the diversity of elected members at the 2022 elections. Candidate's diversity data would then be analysed using a dataset with unique identifiers only.

Step 8: Reporting

Aggregated data and an anonymised dataset will be published once analysis is complete. See Section 6 for information on the approach to reporting.

Step 9: Potential to retain candidate's names securely for data linkage at future elections

The Scottish Parliament Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee held a meeting[53] on 23 November 2021 seeking to understand the barriers to participation in local politics. Specifically, the committee wanted to try and understand why there are not more younger people, more women and more people of colour becoming councillors or remaining as councillors.

Retaining candidates' names securely following the 2022 local government election to allow data linkage at future elections may enable analysis over time of the issue of retention raised by the Committee. It would enable analysis of whether candidates and councillors with certain protected characteristics are less likely to stand again at future elections than those without these characteristics. If this option was pursued, candidates data would again be analysed using unique identifiers and all linking information would be held separately and securely.

While there would be benefits to this approach from an evidence perspective, this is required to be balanced against the importance of maximising candidate's comfort in providing their data and participating in this exercise. Therefore we would welcome your views on the potential to retain candidate's names securely for data linkage at future elections.

Step 10: Review exercise

The 2022 local council elections will be the first time that this approach to collecting diversity data from candidates at the nomination stage has been tried. Following the election, we will review the process with stakeholders, including looking at the response rate and associated representativeness of the data, and the experience of participating in the exercise for ROs and candidates. We will also look at the wider context in terms of any legislative changes or further voluntary commitments, and this will feed into consideration of whether the exercise is repeated at future elections.


Email: Gillian.Cruickshank@gov.scot

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